A Three Jokers #1 Review – Too Many Smiles?

TITLE: Three Jokers #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
ARTISTS:
Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Black Label
PRICE:
$6.99
RELEASED:
August 25, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Alright, DC. You can have your “Joker War,” and you can have Three Jokers. But after these are both said and done, we put the ol’ Clown Prince back on the shelf for a little while. There is such a thing as too many smiles…

At last, more than four years after it was first teased in Johns and Fabok’s Justice League run, Three Jokers has arrived. Why’d it take so long? No clue. But I’ve gotta say, the end product was almost worth the wait. While he’s obviously used Batman in his larger DC stories, Geoff Johns hasn’t spent a lot of time on a proper Bat-book. But in terms of the overall “feel” of things, i.e. characterization, tone, the sense of sacrifice, and that lingering dread that comes with a great Joker story, Johns and the Three Jokers team absolutely nail it.

Three Jokers presents us with the notion that there are…well, three Jokers. When the Harlequin of Hate seemingly strikes three points in Gotham at the exact same time, Batman, Batgirl, and the Red Hood must figure out where the genuine article is. But certain evidence points them toward something more elusive: That three different men have played the role of the Joker over the years. And unbeknownst to our heroes, a fourth Joker may be on his way…

In a broad sense, I don’t really like the idea of there having been three Jokers. Rather, I like the notion that he evolved over time just as Batman did. But I’ve been around long enough to know these kinds of things often aren’t as they initially seem. So I’ll reserve judgment on the premise and simply judge the content on its own merits.

One thing I give this issue a lot of credit for is quickly and effectively establishing the Joker’s relationship to Batman, and also providing the character with dramatic weight he deserves. It’s all done within the first few pages, using very little dialogue. We see Batman’s scarred and mangled flesh juxtaposed with single images of his enemies corresponding to specific wounds. Characters like Bane, the Riddler, Scarecrow, etc. Then we get one for the Joker. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker yet again. Thus the reader, whether a Batman buff or someone picking up a comic for the first time, understands the Joker isn’t simply another villain. He’s the one who’s given Batman more scars, both physically and emotionally, than anyone else.

Also adding dramatic weight is the presence of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and the Red Hood/Jason Todd. Ask a casual comic book reader to name three Joker stories, and chances are two of them will be (for better or worse) The Killing Joke – Where the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara, and A Death in the Family – The infamous story where the Joker kills Jason. So having them around is a nice reminder of what the stakes are when dealing with the Joker. You’d think, with both breathing and walking, the opposite would be true. But both carry a heavy existential burden.

Jason Fabok gets to put his own little tweaks on all the iconic costumes for Three Jokers. The only changes of real significance are to Red Hood’s costume (shown above). Most of what we see is an improvement. The Bat emblem on his chest is thankfully gone. He’s now in a leather jacket with a red tunic that has, you guessed it, a hood. The tunic is supposed to look like the Robin costume. It even has an R on the belt buckle. Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But it’s grown on me. In fact, it’s probably my favorite take on the costume since Under the Hood in the mid 2000s.

I credit Three Jokers #1 with having one of the best, most cinematic chase scenes I’ve read in quite awhile. There’s not even that much to it. Just Batman and Batgirl trying to stop an ambulance, with Batman coming aboard and fighting inside. But Johns and Fabok made a more exciting sequence out of this than some creators can with four times as much.

This book is also beautifully colored. The palette Brad Anderson is working with feels like it can explode into a bright, beautiful blaze at any moment. But instead we get colors that are very full and that pop, but also feel like they’ve been dipped in darkness. The way Fabok and Anderson capture Gotham City feels definitive. Like this is what it’s supposed to look like.

Jason Todd is really the star of this first issue. That’s mostly because of the climax and a deliciously emotional, character-defining moment between a killer and his victim…

Three Jokers #1 straddles an interesting line. I totally disagree with its premise, yet I can’t deny this is a great comic book. Normally I can’t stand it when even oversized comics are priced above $5. But I can say with full confidence that this one is worth the price of admission.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Weekly Comic 100s: “Joker War,” Billionaire Island, Fantastic Four, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Red Hood: Outlaw #48
AUTHOR: Scott Lobdell
ARTISTS: Brett Booth, Danny Miki (Inker), Arif Prianto (Colorist), Troy Peteri (Letterer). Cover by Dan Mora & Tamra Bonvillain.
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

These “Joker War” tie-ins are giving me New 52 flashbacks. When “A Death in the Family” was running in Batman, it seemed like they couldn’t crank out enough tie-in issues.

But as far as Joker-themed tie-in issues go, this is a pretty decent one. It’s suitably focused on Jason, pits another Bat-family character against him, and incorporates a location that’s been a mainstay in the book.

On the downside, they kill off a character for no good reason. One that I thought had a decent fan following too…?

TITLE: Detective Comics #1026
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Kenneth Rocafort, Daniel Brown (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

There’s a panel on the opening page of this issue that’s markedly similar to an Alex Ross painting of Batman standing between stone gargoyles. Anyone else notice that? Or am I just an Alex Ross buff?

Actual exclamation in this issue: “Murderize him!”

I’m not the biggest Kenneth Rocafort fan. But in this atmosphere, Batman vs. Killer Croc in the Gotham sewers, he’s at home. His work here is enjoyable.

Tomasi, who has run hot and cold on Detective, is on his game too. This is the best issue this series has seen in many weeks.

TITLE: Batgirl #48
AUTHOR: Cecil Castellucci
ARTISTS: Robbi Rodriguez, Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Andworld Design (Letters). Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli.
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

I’ve been away for awhile (mostly because I don’t like Batgirl’s current costume)…since when does Commissioner Gordon call his daughter “Babs?” That feels weird to me.

After reading this issue, I feel bad sleeping on Cecil Castellucci. She writes a damn good Barbara Gordon. Robbi Rodriguez and Jordie Bellaire are a great team too. There’s a really nice fluidity to the work here. And as this issue happens to be the first of a new story, I just might stick around.

For all the good it’ll do. This series ends with issue #50.

TITLE: Billionaire Island #5
AUTHOR: Mark Russel
ARTISTS: Steve Pugh, Chris Chuckry (Colorist), Rob Steen (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 26, 2020

The art by Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry has highlighted Billionaire Island for me. Almost every expression is exaggerated to the point of caricature. But in a dark comedy you can do that.

I’m not sure who that’s supposed to be on the cover. I mean, it’s the President of the United States, obviously. But I thought Billionaire Island had cast a Kid Rock stand-in as POTUS. This guy looks more like Carrot Top with blond locks. *shudders*

I wouldn’t say this book has maintained the same level of interest from me, but it’s still worth a look.

TITLE: Fantastic Four: Antithesis #1
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
ARTISTS: Neal Adams, Mark Farmer (Inker), Laura Martin (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 26, 2020

This book gave me not-so-nice flashbacks to Adams’ recent Batman work. That’s a shame, as Adams is legitimately an innovator who’s earned his place in American comic book history. His art looks great here (though Thing’s face looks a little awkward), and Laura Martin’s colors pop beautifully. I just wouldn’t hire Adams as a writer.

Thankfully, you won’t find many writers (if any) better than Mark Waid. So Adams is in good hands for what is apparently his first-ever full-length FF story.

TITLE: Suicide Squad #8
AUTHOR: Tom Taylor
ARTISTS: Daniel Sampere, Adriano Lucas (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

Deadshot has a puppy named Dogshot? That is absolute perfection, and needs to be in both the new video game and the new movie.

Given both the announcements we just got at DC Fandome, it’s surprising this book is on the recent list of casualties over at DC. It’s a shame for so many reasons, not the least of which is the effort the creative team have put into the creation of new characters. Case in point, this issue, in which we dive into some backstories. Hopefully we can bring them back at some point.

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #108
AUTHORS: Sophie Campbell (Story), Ronda Pattison (Script), Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz (Story Consultants)
ARTISTS: Nelson Daniel, Pattison (Colorist), Shawn Lee (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 26, 2020

This issue brings up something I never, ever thought we’d have in a TMNT story. With Mutant Town now existing essentially it’s own city within a city, our heroes are now pondering if they should form their own government and police force. Are the Turtles getting into politics? By God, some things are too evil for even the boys in green to take on…

For whatever reason, since issue #101 the Turtles have been wearing clothes more. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that.

TITLE: Wonder Woman #761
AUTHOR: Mariko Tamaki
ARTISTS: Carlo Barberi, Matt Santorelli (Inker), Alejandro Sanchez (Colorist), Pat Brosseau (Letterer). Cover by David Marquez & Sanchez.
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

Barberi does a fine job on this issue. To the point that I wouldn’t mind him being the regular artist. But because he drew the last two issues, I quickly found myself missing Mikel Janin.

As for Tamaki, she gives Maxwell Lord a great “history is controlled by the victors” speech. Diana refers to him as the villain, and she talks about the Justice League controlling “the flow of justice in this world.” In the context of the story it’s very convincing, and a great character moment for Max.

Then I got to the last page, and my heart broke.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #53
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Moises Hidalgo, Walter Baiamonte & Katia Ranalli (Colorists), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Jamal Campbell
RELEASED: August 26, 2020

I’m diggin’ the designs of these new Dark Ranger suits. Their identities seem like a missed opportunity to introduce new characters. But then again, this series is ending soon. That seems to be a theme this week…

This is the first issue where Moises Hidalgo impressed me. He gets a nice, long battle sequence between our good and evil Ranger teams. So he’s able to really spread his wings, and it shows.

Grace (Remember her?) makes a truly stupid suggestion in this issue. So stupid, in fact, that I’m sure it’ll come to pass.

TITLE: Action Comics #1024
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson (Inker), Brad Anderson (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

There are a lot of Super-people in this book. We’re up to five. If the “Superman family” gets too big, it pretty much makes the Justice League obsolete, doesn’t it? Plus, they spend part of the issue flying over Metropolis, scanning it with X-Ray vision. Creepy much? We’ve also got all the usual problems with John Romita Jr’s sloppy art.

Why am I still buying this book?

TITLE: Batman/Superman #11
AUTHOR: Joshua Williamson
ARTISTS: Clayton Henry, Alejandro Sanchez (Colorist), John J. Hill (Letterer). Cover by David Marquez.
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

This story about the Ultra-Humanite and Atomic Skull is essentially three issues of filler. But it’s good filler, I’ll give it that. Clayton Henry and Alejandro Sanchez turn in work that crackles with that great comic book superhero energy.

There’s a subplot in here about Superman not asking for Batman’s advice before he revealed his true identity to the world. It’s a little too far in the background for my taste, though. I’d have liked to see them explore that with some of the page space they used for textbook hero/villain dialogue with the Ultra-Humanite.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Shadow of the Batgirl Deep Dive – Opportunities and Errors

TITLE: Shadow of the Batgirl
AUTHOR: Sarah Kuhn
ARTISTS:
Nicole Goux, Cris Peter (Colorist), Janice Chiang w/Saida Temofonte (Letterers)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: January 29, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s always been something special about the Cassandra Cain character. A certain X-factor that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s her unique origin story. Or the fact that she initially couldn’t communicate the same way everyone else did. Maybe it’s the diversity element. In the late ’90s, she was a young Asian girl among Batman’s other apprentices, who were primarily white males with dark hair. Perhaps it’s all that and more.

In any event, Cass may not be the most popular Batgirl there’s ever been. But she has a special connection with her fans. Thus, I was pleased to see her get the YA graphic novel treatment.

I enjoyed Shadow of the Batgirl. It’s a fresh and modern look at Cassandra Cain, and I’d argue the young-adult lens is perfect fit for her. But the book has some blaring flaws that I can’t seem to get past.

Cass’ origin is essentially unchanged. She’s the daughter of world-famous assassin David Cain, who trained her since birth to become a living weapon. Her regimen was so all-encompassing that she never learned to speak. Her language was combat. But when she runs away from that life to start anew in Gotham City, she must discover for herself who Cassandra Cain really is. But she won’t do it alone. She’ll have help from a few new friends. One of whom, a librarian named Barbara Gordon, knows quite a bit about the legendary Batgirl…

The Barbara Gordon stuff goes exactly where you think it’s going to go. Actually, Shadow of the Batgirl as a whole goes where you think it’s going to go. Which isn’t a bad thing. It hits all the right notes for a story about a young hero trying to find herself.

What’s more, Nicole Goux’s art is a tremendous fit for Cass. I don’t know if I’d call it “edgy,” as the promo copy on the back of the book does. But there’s an obvious Eastern influence to her work which fits the character like a glove. Personally, I found Goux’s art to be better suited to the dramatic and the dynamic. Her action sequences have a hard-hitting feel to them. Naturally, that’s an awesome quality to have if you’re working on Cass. Generally speaking, if Cass was fighting or moody, Goux was at home. Colorist Cris Peter also deserves a lot of credit for complimenting Goux’s work so well. His palette is a few shades darker than standard, and a little bit deeper. When Cass is in the dark, the result is delightfully moody.

While Cass’ supporting cast could easily have consisted of just Barbara, perhaps making for a more intimate feel between mentor and student, Sarah Kuhn fleshes out our supporting cast. Case in point, noodle shop owner and resident wise old sage Jackie Fujikawa Yoneyama. She’s got a nice Mr. Miyagi feel to her, offering wisdom, guidance, and even discipline to our young heroine. Like a surrogate parent, or the book’s answer to Alfred. Generally speaking, I enjoyed Jackie’s scenes a lot.

I was less fond of Erik, our love interest. There’s nothing wrong with him, per se. He just doesn’t do much to stand out. I’ll give Kuhn credit for making him sensitive and even a bit vulnerable, in contrast to Cass’ remarkable physical prowess. But other than that, he’s really only there to be pined over.

While very much enjoyable, for my money Shadow of the Batgirl has one major problem, one minor problem, and also misses a big opportunity

The minor problem involves Cass’ Batgirl costume. Not the thrown-together one we see her wear for a good portion of the book (shown at left). Rather, it’s the one she ends up with at the end. The one that’s supposed to be her officially-endorsed costume. Granted there’s a makeshift quality to that one as well, as Cass makes it herself. But the book lacks that all important awe-inspiring moment where she takes the legacy and the grandeur of Batgirl on her shoulders. Come to think of it, Cass’ original Batgirl costume wasn’t much to write home about either.

The major issue, at least in my mind, is almost funny. But it annoyed me and left me scratching my head for the first half of the book. When she first comes to Gotham, Cass creates a home for herself at the library. It’s there that Barbara is teaching a young writers class. The subject of which, at least while Cass happens to be watching, is Batgirl. We hear Babs say things like, “There’s nothing boring about Batgirl – she’s a hero!” and call her “Gotham City’s beloved daughter.”

In Shadow, Barbara is in her wheelchair but has yet to become the information broker to superheroes known as Oracle. The book doesn’t tell us what put her in the chair, but it seems like she’s still grieving. Thus, I could understand her using this writing class to work through some of her feelings about not being Batgirl anymore. The problem is the book never refers to it as such. So when we find out Babs’ secret, it feels very strange. Even egotistical. Certainly not behavior befitting either a hero or mentor.

Sadly, the book’s worst offense is that it doesn’t capitalize on what really made Cassandra Cain special in the first place. She wasn’t just unique amongst the Batman family. She was different than any other superhero you’d ever seen because she lacked conventional communication skills. Cass could barely speak, so she’d have to find other ways to express herself.

So many teens and young adults struggle to accept qualities that make them different, stand out, and in certain cases a little bit freakish. They see them as liabilities rather than potential strengths. While a dramatic example, Cassandra Cain certainly falls into that freakish category. I don’t think the book should have centered around her communication issues. But instead of giving her a standard YA love interest, why not use those pages to show her facing those challenges? It’s certainly not something you’d see in any other book. (At right is a small example from Cass’ original Batgirl run in 2000.)

Instead, Shadow opts for a more conventional route. Which is a shame, as Goux and colorist Cris Peteri certainly have the artistic chops to handle the increased emphasis on visuals rather than dialogue.

I definitely recommend Shadow of the Batgirl, especially for those who aren’t familiar with Cassandra Cain. It’s good book. In fact, I believe if it could have been a great book, had the raw materials been used a little bit differently…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Black Canary: Ignite Review – Listen to the Music

TITLE: Black Canary: Ignite
AUTHOR: Meg Cabot
ARTISTS:
Cara McGee, Caitlin Quirk (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: October 29, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Comics are visual medium. That should be news to approximately no one at all.

That’s why it’s usually difficult to follow a comic book where music is a story component. Sure, you can print lyrics on a page. But if you can’t take in the melody, feel the beat, and hear the emotion in the singer’s voice, it tends to take the punch out of a story.

Thus, I cannot overstate the importance of this video…

In Black Canary: Ignite, Dinah Lance is a brash middle schooler and the lead singer in a band with her two best friends. When we open the book, Dinah and her band are playing the song heard in the video above. With this audio acting as a supplement, it’s exponentially easier to be drawn into Ignite, and the story that’s beginning to unfold. Does it work without the video to accompany it? Sure. But I’d argue the book should have had an advertisement for the video in it. It makes that big a difference in terms of the overall experience.

Middle school is hard enough without learning to control a superpower. But that’s the position our young heroine finds herself in, as she inherits the supersonic “Canary Cry” from her mother. While Dinah comes to grips with what this means for her future, a mysterious villain stalks the Lance family…

Our author is Meg Cabot, who famously wrote The Princess Diaries series, which was later adapted into the films starring Anne Hathaway. It was interesting to read this book after Dear Justice League. That book was geared toward the same age group, but essentially anyone could enjoy it. Ignite, however, is clearly running on girl power. That’s not to say boys shouldn’t pick it up. But it’s aimed at a specific portion of the market, and also skews a bit younger than the other DC Zoom/DC Kids books I’ve read. I’d actually be more inclined to hand it to a kid about to go into middle school than someone already there.

The story has a lot of your standard teen tropes. Conflict with parents, conflict with friends, conflict with a teacher. Nothing that jumps out as especially unique or memorable. But it’s all well and good.

One slight complaint? Our story takes place in Gotham City. Dinah’s father, a police detective, is drawn almost exactly like Commissioner Gordon. Same white hair. Same mustache. Same brown trench coat. Slap a pair of glasses on him, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. I can see kids familiar with Batman’s world reading this and asking, “Wait, is she Commissioner Gordon’s daughter? I thought that was Batgirl.”

Almost every time I opened this book, Cara McGee’s art thrust “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts into my mind. That might be the oddest critique I’ve ever given to comic art. But it’s true. Not a bad connection to make for a book about a rebellious young girl. Though I imagine it has a lot to do with Ronda Rousey using it in the UFC and WWE.

As a DC Comics buff, I can appreciate the way parts of Black Canary’s history were folded into Ignite. For awhile, it was canon that her mother had been the original Black Canary, and she was taking up the mantle. That’s the case here, as is her being mentored by Ted Grant, a.k.a. Wildcat. Her mother also runs a flower shop called “Sherwood Florist.” Dinah ran a business with the same name in the comics many years ago. There’s also no shortage of Batgirl references. They could very well have had a spin on Birds of Prey in mind.

Black Canary: Ignite is…fine. They had the foresight to record the song, which I love. But the writing? Just fine. The art? Just fine. The girl power vibe? That’s fine too. It doesn’t stand out the way they probably wanted it to with Cabot attached. But I tend to measure the quality of books like this based on whether I’d hand them to my daughter at the appropriate age. And I’d have no problem handing her Ignite.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Epic Covers: Gotham Knights by Brian Bolland

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

When you hear the name Brian Bolland, especially in the context of Batman’s world, you think of The Killing Joke. That’s understandable. Nearly 30 years later, DC still goes to great lengths to make sure none of us forget it.

But Bolland has revisited the Dark Knight at various points since, usually via cover work. Such was the case in late 1999/2000, when DC called on him to do the covers for their new Batman series, Gotham Knights. Between April of 2000 and January of 2004, almost every issue of Gotham Knights was adorned with a Brian Bolland cover. Thus, Bolland got to cover a lot of ground he likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. We saw him draw characters like Nightwing, Huntress, Spoiler, and even Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. While Gotham Knights was essentially a third string series, during that timeframe is boasted some of the best covers in all of comics.

While great many of them would most certainly fit into the “epic” category, I’ve picked my five favorites for this space today.

Issue #18 – Aquaman and the Giant Penny.

Brian Bolland is widely known as the man who drew Barbara Gordon getting shot and paralyzed by the Joker. So when one thinks of his art, the word “funny” doesn’t often come to mind. And yet, here we are.

Gotham Knights #18 is about Batman summoning Aquaman for help retrieving some Batcave artifacts that went underwater after the big earthquake in Cataclysm. Bolland uses this premise to to get a little cutesy with iconic Batcave set piece. Aquaman is a character that gets played for laughs a lot. But what I appreciate about this piece is that it’s not necessarily making fun of Arthur, or using the whole “he talks to fish” bit. Arthur is in on the joke. Bolland doesn’t draw him in a cartoony way, but the combination of the shrug and the expression on his face almost evokes a Looney Tunes vibe. It’s difficult not to smile when you see this thing.

Issue #25 – Batman in Handcuffs.

Most people associated those bladed gauntlets with Batman, and that iconography is what makes this image work.

Gotham Knights #25 tied in with the Bruce Wayne, Murderer? storyline going on at the time, which saw Bruce go to prison. Bolland captured the spirit of that story perfectly by placing Batman in handcuffs. And don’t discount the iconic symbolism of those either. For better or worse, handcuffs are a symbol of American justice. With this relatively tight image, Bolland tells us that Batman is now entrapped within the system he’s supposed to be serving.

Issue #32 – The Grandfather Clock

I wouldn’t call this a famous image. But it’s gotten a decent amount of additional exposure over the years. It’s easy to see why.

While issue #25 took place as the Murderer? storyline was beginning, Gotham Knights #32 was part of the wrap up. It showed us 24 hours in the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman. So it’s fitting that Bolland’s cover show is the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave. The unofficial threshold between billionaire playboy and caped crusader. And you have the great juxtaposition of both identities standing back to back. An awesome cover for an awesome issue.

Issue #43 – Batgirl Debuts

Another piece that got a good amount of play after the fact. Bolland delivers an epic tip-of-the-hat to the classic Carmine Infantino cover for Detective Comics #359 from 1967, Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s “million dollar debut!” The classic never dies, kids.

There’s a sentimental aspect to this one, of course. Bolland wasn’t very nice to Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. So for him to render here like this, in her crowning moment, is pretty cool. It’s almost a sense of justice for the character. Though ironically, the issue was more about Jason Todd than Barbara herself.

Issue #45 – Man-Bat’s Close Up

Oddly enough, I remember not liking this one when it came out. It’s so damn gruesome and detailed. Look at the nose. The ears. The fangs.

But of course, that’s the point, isn’t it? There aren’t a lot of epic Man-Bat covers. But this one definitely fits the bill.

This one also has a great Universal monster movie vibe to it. Between the lighting from below, the positioning of the head and neck and the wide-eyed expression, it brings to mind the promotional art for the original Wolfman or Mummy movies.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

 

A DKIII: The Master Race #7 Review – Green Lantern’s Light

DKIII: The Master Race #7, 2016, cover, Andy KubertTITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #7
AUTHOR: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: December 28, 2016

(Need to catch up? Check out issues #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6.)

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Believe it or not, the character with the best showing in DKIII #7 is Green Lantern. It’s not even in the main story. This is the first DKIII issue where the mini-comic has been superior in terms of quality. It may represent the best storytelling in DKIII overall.

After Batman is mortally wounded in the battle against the Kryptonian army, Superman rushes to save the Dark Knight’s life. But the battle isn’t over. A far more personal blow is about to be struck. The fate of the world, and one special young life, hangs in the balance.

Of course they didn’t kill off Bruce Wayne. They went the Lazarus Pit route. So now he’s not only alive, but he’s been de-aged. We don’t see much of him once he emerges from the pit. But he’s clearly able-bodied, and he’s even got his dark hair back. I can only assume this is a set-up for future stories. Whether DKIV is actually in the works or not remains to be seen. This book has hardly been a critical success. But you can’t argue with sales, can you?

dkiii-7-superman-and-batman

Assuming we will see more Dark Knight stories going forward, I find it odd that we apparently won’t be seeing old man Bruce Wayne any longer. That rougher, Clint Eastwood-style Batman is one of the big trademarks of this universe. Why do away with something like that?

We also get some dialogue between Commissioner Yindel and Carrie Kelley, that implies that their relationship will continue into the future. Essentially as a new Batman/Jim Gordon type pairing. The elevation and establishment of Carrie as a full-fledged hero has been an ongoing theme in DKIII. From a storytelling perspective, it would be fitting to have Carrie take over as Gotham’s protector, while Bruce goes off to do something else. But by God it bears repeating: GIVE CARRIE A NEW COSTUME!

Donald Trump returns in this issue, via a disturbingly authentic sounding tweet: “We won just like I said we would, and now we’ll make the Kryptonians pay to rebuild Gotham City. You’re gonna love it.” Some things are just a little too real…

Between Batgirl and armored Superman, DKIII has definite costume problems. But by and large, Andy Kubert, inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Brad Anderson have given this story a look that feels like great extension of Miller and Janson’s art from the original. In particular, our cliffhanger scene with Wonder Woman and Lara has a great intensity to it.

dkiii-hal-jordanWhen you get right down to it, most of what we see in DKIII #7 is filler and transitional material. That’s part of why the Strange Adventures mini-comic comes off so well. But it’s more than that. It’s also a comeback story that sees a humbled Hal Jordan reconnect to his humanity.

After losing his hand in issue #3, Hal wanders the desert hunting down his lost Green Lantern Ring. It’s in the hands of what appears to be a militant extremist group. (Oddly enough, the ring is still on Jordan’s severed hand. Maybe this is the same group that found Luke Skywalker’s hand and lightsaber after The Empire Strikes Back…) With some help from Hawkman and Hawkgirl, he gains a new perspective on his place in the universe and boldly declares: “I’m back.” In a way, it’s beautiful. Perhaps I’m biased, but Miller’s art even looks a little more polished here.

Notwithstanding the Green Lantern content, DKIII #7 is mostly missable. Right now, I’m hoping for a big finish. Something with a little more personality than we saw from the big attack on Gotham City. But between Kryptonians and Amazons, that may prove difficult.

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A Batman/TMNT Adventures #2 Review – Send in the Clowns

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2, 2016TITLE: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #2
AUTHOR: Matthew K. Manning
PENCILLER: Jon Sommariva
PUBLISHERS: DC Comics/IDW Publishing
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 14, 2016

***Miss issue #1? Catch up here!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s a school of thought that says the comics based on Batman: The Animated Series, created by the Paul Dini, Kelley Puckett, Rick Burchett, Ty Templeton, etc, were some of the best Batman stories to come out of the ’90s and early ’00s. Looking at something like Mad Love, it’s tough to dispute that. I’m certainly not comparing Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Mad Love, but the charming simplicity of it reminds me of those older books.

This sophomore issue sees the Batman and TMNT of two different generations meet, as they investigate strange dimensional portals. Little do they know that other cross-dimensional meetings have also occurred. The Joker and Harley Quinn have lured Shredder and the Foot Clan into a trap. But as our heroes will soon learn, yet another Arkham escapee is in New York, and they’re looking for a fight.

Batman/TMNT Adventures #2, Rick Burchett coverAs one might expect, with two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures regulars on this title, it leans more in the TMNT direction in terms of look and tone. It’s still the Animated Series Batman. But the word “animated” has rarely been more emphasized. He, and the characters from his world, all essentially look like they’re appearing on the TMNT cartoon. As one might expect, the Joker and Harley feel this transition the least.

And yes, we are allowed to see the reverse effect, if only on a variant cover by Rick Burchett (shown left).

I was pleasantly surprised at how funny this issue was. Not laugh out loud funny. But I was tickled. There’s a bit where Joker is “struggling” to remember Shredder’s name, calling him things like Slicer, Grater, and the Juicer. Mikey later calls Robin a pirate, because of the “R” on his chest. It’s objectively stupid. But it’s fun. Perhaps I’m a little more receptive to the humor this time around, given how much more I’m enjoying it than the Tynion/Williams story (no offense, gents).

That scene with Joker, Harley, and the Foot was a bit of a head-scratcher, as Mr. J simply outwits them. The TMNT buff in me wanted a more even exchange between them. But it’s early, of course. And from a story perspective, I imagine you have to find some way to justify Shredder wanting to team with this crazy clown. He’s obviously smarter than he seems. And as we find out in our cliffhanger, the team-up thing seems to be going around.

Batman/TMNT Adventures #2, Jon Sommariva

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures has been a pleasant surprise. A fun ride for fans young and old. I’m most certainly coming back for a third slice!

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A Nightwing #10 Review – Back in Bludhaven

Nightwing #10, 2016, cover, Marcus ToTITLE: Nightwing #10
AUTHOR: Tim Seeley
PENCILLER: Marcus To
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The cover may say “Welcome to Bludhaven,” but don’t be fooled. NIghtwing has been here before. It’s been about a decade. But these are his old stomping grounds…kinda.

Bludhaven (pronounced “blood haven”) was the setting for Rightwing’s original solo series, which first hit stands in 1996. Compared to Gotham, Bludhaven was poorer, dirtier, and at times more violent. As writer Chuck Dixon described the city in issue #1: “As bad as Gotham is, Bludhaven’s worse in a lot of ways. If it’s too coarse or too vile or too awful for Gotham, it winds up here.” Yikes. Now, after a hint from Superman (who, remember, is from that New 52 Earth), our New 52 Dick Grayson is checking out this world’s version of Bludhaven. As it turns out, not much has changed. Dick and Nightwing are making Bludhaven their new home, even though the city doesn’t look highly on those that wear capes and masks…

Tim Seeley is essentially using the formula for the old Nightwing book, with the New 52 iteration of the character. As an older fan, that’s a nice treat. We’ve got the Bludhaven name, the black and blue suit, and Dick is trying to “figure out who I am,” as he tended to do back in the day. He’s even got a new gig as a volunteer for teens affected by violence. How many friggin’ jobs did he have in that old series? He was a bartender, a cop, a gymnastics coach. A true renaissance man, that Dick Grayson.

nightwing #10, 2016, Marcus To, splash pageWe get a nice same-but-different vibe from the city. It’s not depicted as violent or dirty, thus far. But there’s a definite air of corruption and danger. What’s more, this is a Bludhaven that’s concerned about tourism. In future issues, Nightwing will apparently become a mascot of sorts for the city. That’s intriguing, considering he’s more of a covert-style vigilante. It’s certainly a far cry from people thinking he’s dead.

Seeing Marcus To on this book makes me smile. Years later, I’m still bitter about the Red Robin book he worked on being cut short. He’s worked for DC since then, but having him back on an ongoing Bat-book feels like justice of sorts. He and colorist Chris Sotomayor give us an awesome Nightwing. What’s more (as Meg Downey pointed out on Twitter), To gives us subtle variations between Dick as Nightwing, Dick in public, and Dick in private. The way he dresses is obviously different, but the way To plays with his hair is the great part. As Nightwing it’s a bit wilder, in public it’s styled neatly, and in private it’s unkempt. Sadly, you don’t always notice that kind of thing the first time through. But I give To a lot of credit for it. His character acting is also very natural, and again, subtle at times. Case in point: The page that strictly consists of shots of Dick sitting in a chair talking. To makes each of them different, while other artists might go for panel duplication.

The issue starts out with a one-page scene (shown below) in which Batgirl and Robin briefly talk about Dick. We also get a shot of Batman. It’s not immediately apparent why this is in this issue. Though when you take into account the talk about Dick finding himself, it makes some sense. In this scene we see Bruce, Barbara, and Damian. But the trio used to be Bruce, Barbara, and Dick. And of course, when beginning a new chapter in Dick’s career, beginning with a Robin scene always seems fitting.

Nightwing #10, 2016, page 2Seeley does give us one groaner of a line. Via Dick’s inner monologue: “You gotta keep it sexy and exciting… Like Nightwing.” I’m far from a sexiness expert. But the truly sexy don’t have to tell us they’re sexy, do they?

But all in all, this is cool. Putting Dick in Bludhaven doesn’t inherently make this a good book, but it’s a nice treat. On its on merits, this Nightwing book has been fairly strong. That doesn’t look like it’s going to change in the near future.

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A DKIII: The Master Race #6 Review – History Repeats

DKIII: The Master Race #6, 2016, cover, Andy KubertTITLE: DKIII: The Master Race #6
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLERS: Andy Kubert, Miller
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: October 19, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As one might expect, DKIII has shown us a lot of the same imagery The Dark Knight Returns did. Armored Batman, Batman being hunted, Batman against Kryptonians, etc.

DKIII #6 gives us yet another one: The death of Bruce Wayne, complete with a heart monitor on the page. It’s just a shame he goes down in perhaps the most anticlimactic way possible.

After striking a crippling blow to Quar and the Kryptonian army via Kryptonite-laced rain, an armored Batman and Superman are set for battle. They’re not alone, as Batgirl, Commissioner Yindel, and the people of Gotham City are set to serve up some justice of their own. But while the battle now takes place on a more even playing field, in the process they’ll sustain a heavy loss…

I’m calling BS on Bruce Wayne being dead. Or if he is dead, he’s coming back by the end of the story. There’s no way Frank Miller’s Batman, even if he’s mostly written by Brian Azzarello at this point, goes out via a quick heat vision burst (shown below). They’ll stick him in a rejuvenation chamber, a Lazarus Pit, or find some other way to restore him. I’m betting this will serve the dual purpose of rejuvenating his body so he doesn’t need crutches anymore.

DKIII #6, 2016, Andy Kubert, kill shot

DKIII was originally advertised as the final installment in the Dark Knight series. So it’s possible they were intending to kill Bruce off here. But now I’m betting plans have changed. If DKIII has proven anything, it’s that there’s still great value in putting Frank Miller and Batman together. The first issue sold 449,100 copies, making it one of the best selling single issues since the turn of the century. Since then, the book has remained a top 10 seller amongst all publishers.

Frank Miller may be controversial, and neither sequel has done much justice to the legacy left by The Dark Knight Returns. But when you put Miller on a Batman book, it’s newsworthy. That’s a well DC can go back to when they need a boost. Miller is apparently willing to go back, as last year he talked about being the solo writer for a Dark Knight IV story. I believe DKIV is happening. But Miller by himself? I’ll believe that when I see it.

As for this issue, it’s mostly fluff until the finale. It looks pretty, and we get some decent one-liners. (“You want to shut him up, or should I?”) But when we open the issue, our heroes already have the battle mostly won. Most of the action comes from a fight between Batgirl/Carrie Kelley and Baal, Lara’s love interest, who is unaffected by the rain. The Batmobile winds up shredded, which is a cool visual. She eventually ends up beating him with, of all things, her slingshot. Another callback from The Dark Knight Returns.

By the way, can we get better costumes for DKIV? Superman’s armor doesn’t look any less stupid this time around, nor does Batgirl look less gaudy.

DKIII #6, 2016, Frank Miller artOur mini-comic this time is Dark Knight Universe Presents: World’s Finest #1, featuring a confrontation between Lara and Batgirl. Wonder Woman eventually intervenes. I’d be interested to know why this wasn’t in the main issue, with the Baal/Carrie fight getting the backseat. There’s so much more meat here, and it’s in line with what we’ve built up to. The Kryptonians have convinced Lara to turn her back on her family and humanity at large. One would think the story culminates in Batman and Carrie having to stop her, which creates tension with Superman and Wonder Woman, and all the drama you mine from that. Where we go now that Bruce has “died” is an interesting question.

As for Frank Miller’s art…it’s Frank Miller’s art. At this point, it is what it is. Here’s what I will say: These mini-comics have always been beautifully colored by Alex Sinclair.

I’m almost past the point of judging DKIII as good or bad. It’s already not my cup of tea. And yet, I keep slapping cash down for it. At $5.99 an issue, it’s not cheap either. But as DC knows all too well, comic book fans will pay to read what Frank Miller has to say about Batman. It’s been 30 years since The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, but maybe we’re all secretly hoping he has one more classic left in him.

Again, I’ll believe it when I see it.

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A Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 Review – The Never-Ending Joke

Batgirl & The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, 2016, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1
AUTHORS: Julie Benson, Shawna Benson
PENCILLER: Claire Roe. Cover by Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 20, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been looking for a reason to write about The Killing Joke, what with the animated movie coming out. I didn’t expect to find it here. But I’ll take it!

Someone is sending information to mafia families using the name Oracle, Barbara Gordon’s handle during her days in a wheelchair. This obviously strikes a personal chord, and Batgirl asks Black Canary to help her investigate. Babs is looking to get the Birds of Prey back together. But Dinah isn’t interested (“I’ve moved on. So have you.”). Still, she tags along for her friend’s sake. They cross paths with Huntress, who inexplicably knows some big secrets. But the identity of this mysterious new Oracle? That’s still a secret.

In reviewing how Babs became Oracle, we flash back to The Killing Joke. We see Claire Roe’s take on some of the famous shots from that story: Joker in the Hawaiian shirt, Barbara getting shot with the coffee mug in her hands, her laying looking up at him. Interestingly, Roe puts Barbara in a tank top and pants, as opposed to the skirt and blouse she was wearing in that story.

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1, Killing Joke flashbackI read an article recently on DC’s refusal to put The Killing Joke behind them. Though heralded as a landmark story, it’s unquestionably brutal and cruel. It also spawned an era of creators seemingly trying to mimic The Killing Joke by having female characters face awful acts of violence (see Women in Refrigerators). Yet the story lives on. Why? For the same reason DC won’t give up on Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. Name value.

Those three stories were arguably the three tentpole works of the “grim and gritty” movement in the ’80s. If you’ve been into comics at all over the last 30 years, chances are you’ve at least heard of them. In one way or another, they’re masterpieces that changed the industry. So by connecting those stories to their new books, DC creates a bridge to readers that have either left them behind, or simply aren’t reading comics anymore.

That’s one of the reasons why the first several issues of the New 52 Batgirl series weren’t just about Barbara being a superhero again. They were about her recovering, and coming to grips with being able to walk again. Just like in this issue, in 2011’s Batgirl #1 we relived the Joker shooting scene, and went over Barbara’s trauma. Eventually Babs even winds up confronting a nameless henchmen from that story.

I’m not disputing The Killing Joke is a great story, albeit one that inspired a bunch of bad creative choices. I just hope a day comes where we don’t have to go back to it every time Barbara has a new series. There are other stories out there, after all…

Huntress church sceneSo what’s with Dinah not wanting to put the Birds of Prey back together? The New 52 Birds of Prey series wasn’t exactly their highest of highs. But Babs and Dinah are still good friends. Why the cold shoulder?

Huntress makes her first appearance in a church confessional. I’m not as familiar with this version of Helena, but it looks like she’s as much a believer as her pre-New 52 counterpart was. The visual messaging in the church scene makes sense, particularly the shot of her walking out. By that point, you know her mission is to kill mafia hitmen. To say the least, she’s become a lapsed Catholic. You’ll notice this version of the Huntress costume doesn’t include a cross necklace.

The panels in the confessional are lit very interestingly (some shown above). Colorist Allen Passalaqua does great things withthe faint light coming in from the church and the resulting shadows on Helena’s face. The panel where her elbow is on the ledge is the best in the book, giving us an image more natural than what we see in most superhero books.

In contrast, Batgirl has what I’ll call some “mouth issues.” Not Barbara. Just Batgirl. I can’t decide if Claire Roe draws it in a way that’s somehow conspicuous, or if she just came out a little toothy. In certain panels, she almost looks like a buck-toothed Pipi Longstocking in a cowl. It’s one thing if that’s the look she’s going for. I don’t think it is.

Batgirl and the Birds, just a nameIt’s hard to believe, but Birds of Prey turns 20 this year. The group has had a variety of incarnations. But the most successful, at least creatively, have always had two ingredients: Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance. At its core, Birds of Prey is a buddy superhero series about two women who bonded through their work and found friendship. If you’re missing one of them, you don’t have Birds of Prey. Thankfully, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey has its core intact. Now they simply need to built on top of that. With two female writers and a female penciller, I’m hopeful they build a series unlike any other on the stands.

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